Of London’s seven Quietways – the city’s network of backstreet cycle routes – four are in South London. The idea of getting somewhere on a bike, without the threat of being crushed by a fat truck, is a liberating one. But, would there be any pubs on the way to save it being a giant waste of time?
To find out, Half-life and I mounted our steeds at the beginning of Quietway 1, just under Waterloo Bridge, by the National Theatre. The big man was unusually gloomy. Something was on his mind, other than my refusal to let him travel the Quietway in a Hummer stretch limo. I did at least concede there was no better way to show the world that he’s an utter penis, which he seemed quite pleased with.
There’s no sign to mark this momentous station. No fireworks to announce this little triumph of the silent. Soon though, you come to a sign directing you down Cornwall Road, where, not two minutes after our departure, we stopped for a pint, at The White Hart.
Ah, The White Hart. Pretty enough, but often overlooked for the seductive charms of the King’s Arms, round the corner, in her Georgian glory. The White Hart is still well worth an entry on your dance card, mind. It has a slightly younger crowd than the KA and they’ve upped their game on the beer front. Half-life plumbed for White Tips, a delicious, citrusy white IPA from Siren, on the grounds that it was ‘more expensive’. I figured kegged beer wasn’t the way to go when you’ve got miles of pedalling ahead and had an Adnams Mosaic. What a start to a day’s exercise.
We’d only been back in the saddle for another couple of minutes when we came across The Stage Door, which we couldn’t ignore because it has a lovely roof garden. The barmaid had never heard of Quietway 1 and had no idea she was on a cycle route to Greenwich. Despite a wealth of ride-based smutty gags at his disposal and the barmaid’s full attention, Half-life smiled politely and went upstairs. He wasn’t even tempted to thrash me at pool.
‘You OK, hun?’ I asked.
‘I’m fine,’ he barked, then moaned about all the flowers on the roof terrace that stopped him having a proper lean with his fag so he could enjoy the view of the arse-end of the Old Vic. ‘Bastard flora.’
With a little beer buzz, we continued to plough through the backstreets. A kindly truck driver waved us through onto Great Suffolk Street. This must be what it’s like being pretty, I thought to myself.
‘I feel pretty,’ I told Half-life.
‘That’s nice,’ he muttered.
At last, three minutes later, we arrived at The Libertine, another decent SE1 pub that we rarely visit. They do nice pizza.
‘No, ta,’ said Half-life. He wasn’t even tempted to win money off me at darts either. Now I’m thinking I should take him to A&E.
Next, whether due to a lack of signage or a lack of attention, we went wrong. We’d crossed Borough High Street onto Trinity Street and didn’t notice anything suggesting that we should turn left on Swan Street. If you get to the delightful Trinity Square, you’ve gone too far. We went as far as The Roebuck, a pub unnecessary for the purpose of the day’s research, but a pub all the same. We had a lovely pint of Kinsale and wondered why we don’t go wrong more often.
Had we gone the right way, we would have instead visited the Dover Castle, which is a hostel (from £15 a night!) and therefore aimed at those passing through, rather than those who require lifelong relationships, as all pubs should be. ‘Good pubs are all about commitment,’ said Half-life, warming up.
We’d had four pints by now, no breakfast and still hadn’t left SE1. Plus, once we had rejoined the Q1 at Tabard Street, we had to pass the Royal Oak – and there’s no frigging way that was going to happen. It’s a lovely Victorian pub, made all the more welcoming by the charming, slightly eccentric landlord. Their Harvey’s Best is one of life’s certainties, but Half-life surprised me by having Tom Paine, Harvey’s dry-hopped export ale. But then he’s as keen on the Rights of Man as he is strong ale.
The Oak’s menu is full of timeless hearty food from the ’70s. There’s not a jus in sight. Half-life smiled for the first time today. ‘I’ll have the pork pie and Scotch egg salad,’ he beamed, which turned out to be exactly as described. ‘Followed by a knickerbocker glory.’
Cycling is not an ideal post-lunch occupation but the Q1 beckoned and was separated from car traffic sufficiently at this stage for us to be safe, even while wobbling and dawdling. I was thinking how much I liked the low-rise social housing of Waterloo and Borough when it started to tip down. This country and her alleged summer. I felt certain it was the fault of Brexiteers, unleashing neanderthals onto the streets and encouraging the sun to leave us too. The shower became almost torrential as we crossed Tower Bridge Road and we really had no choice but to stop at The Victoria, a favourite Bermondsey boozer, or risk our health in the wet rain.
Another Victorian cracker, another welcoming landlord. Some lads were having one for the road, when their road had clearly been liberally hydrated. They watched the news – Theresa May was to become our Prime Minister. Thank Jeebus we had our democracy back. We now had an unelected PM, an unelected Head of State and an unelected second chamber, filled with hereditary peers, bishops and quite possibly prom queens, for all the democratic sense it made.
‘She’s Remain, Theresa May, innit. I want to Leave,’ spat a pock-marked boozer to his confused Irish buddies. ‘Mind you, I want to leave the facking planet, I do.’ Our new leader has vowed to obey the wishes of paragons of wisdom such as he.
Half-life was nursing a Mad Goose, looking glum. At least he wasn’t goosing a mad nurse.
‘I can’t understand people’s choices, sometimes,’ he muttered.
‘Yes, it’s incomprehensible,’ I replied. ‘We live in a country with 52% arsehole DNA.’
‘I would’ve put it higher than that. Where are you getting 52% from?’
‘Brexit, of course.’
‘Oh yeah, the vote’s coming up soon, isn’t it?’
‘Jesus. What the fuck are you talking about then?’
‘My Cassie,’ he said, sadly. ‘It’s doing my head in. She won’t even consider a threesome. She’s got some kind of problem with it. I mean, where’s the commitment?’
Having a threesome with another woman is vital part of a loving relationship in Half-life’s world and he is baffled by anyone unable to see the benefit.
‘Is that it? It that why you’re such a grouch today?’
‘It’s not just that. I can’t find a mistress who won’t fall in love with me, either. They always want more. And I’ve only got so much to give.’
I began to despair of friends and strangers alike, but now, the sun was coming out. We still hadn’t left SE1. It was time to ride.
A friend had recently said of our posts on South London’s far flung corners: ‘They sound alright, but I live in SE1. Why would I go anywhere else?’ He had a point. We had been to six crackers and on the rest of the Q1 we wouldn’t see a single pub. It was almost like it had simply been designed for riding a bike from one point to another.
The housing became more modern and less interesting as we trekked through Bermondsey, past the New Den, towards Deptford. All was not lost though, as the Q1 took us through Folkestone Gardens, a little urban park on the site of WWII bomb-damaged high-density housing, where 50 people had died one terrible night. There, we smoked one we’d rolled earlier, kept calm and carried on. This small speck of green became a tree-lined paradise in the middle of an industrial estate. Plus, the drugs massively helped our cycling technique.
Again, either the signage was insufficient, or something had affected our minds; we got a bit lost. I still think it was the former, but we reached Deptford High Street regardless and in desperate need of a pint after all we’d been through. By straying off the path – always a good idea – we found ourselves at the Job Centre pub. Unfortunately it wasn’t open till five.
‘It’s not a pub, then,’ fumed Half-life, with his familiar refrain, before storming off back towards the path.
‘What about…?’ But he had gone. My plan B for this stage had been to carry on up the High Street to London Velo, a licensed cycling cafe where we could watch the Tour de France, now that we were kindred spirits with the Froome Dog and all.
Back on the Q1 there was another lovely spliff spot opportunity at St Paul’s churchyard. Apart from boasting one of London’s finest baroque churches, its crypt is also where I was once robbed of the takings from a club night I’d hosted, back in the day. Without the bus fare home, I was forced to spend the night with the dead.
We diverted off the Q1 again at Deptford Church Street, for the comforts of The Birds Nest, Deserter’s 2014 No.1 Pub on a Roundabout. It’s fair to say it retains its pre-eminence in the world of circular intersection booze stops.
Afterwards, we paused for a snout at the Ha’Penny Hatch on Deptford Creek.
‘Cassie did ballet there,’ said Half-life, nodding towards the Laban music and dance school, a Stirling Prize-winning building, now dwarfed by ugly luxury flats.
‘Pointe?’ I asked.
‘There’s no need to be like that. I was just making conversation.’
We pressed on to Greenwich Station, the end of the Q1, where we high-fived like we’d climbed Mont Ventoux.
‘Great work, mate. Fancy a pint?’
Not tempted by either of the bars by the station, we headed to the craft beer haven of The Union for some mad beer from a vast selection and a well-earned sit down. When I reached the beer garden with our Japanese ales, I heard Half-life’s deep, resonant laugh for the first time today. He’d met a beautiful Dutch woman who gave as good as she got.
‘Have the clouds lifted, mate?’ I asked.
‘Eh? Are you talking to me about fucking weather?’
‘No. The black dog. The slough of despond.’
‘You’ve lost me, pal. Have you been drinking?’
The Q1 is a very easy ride, despite the occasional lack of signage and the odd roadwork. There are pubs at either end, but actually on the route, they are all at one end. So you might be best advised to start at Greenwich, taking care to detour to The Roebuck along the way.
Your journey’s end is then at the South Bank, where you’re moments away from the delights of the Waterloo Tap. Cheers, fellow athletes.
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